Middle and high school shop classes were once part of the core curriculum of education, hands-on classes where students gained the skills they needed to thrive in an economy largely centered on jobs in the manufacturing industry. But as more of this work moved offshore, educators changed their approach. After all, why prepare students for jobs that no longer existed? Though manufacturing never left completely, it did change, and so too must our tools – all of them, machine computer numerical controls (CNCs) included – because today’s manufacturing professionals typically come from backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and math (the so-called “STEM” fields) and possess the necessary training to take on industry or job-specific continuing education. For machine operators and programmers, this usually includes learning EIA/ISO programming and one of several CAD/CAM systems, along with the information needed to apply it successfully: a thorough understanding of metal cutting physics, materials science and tooling.
Unfortunately, the competition for candidates with these qualifications is fierce because STEM graduates have numerous opportunities in the broader job market, many of which are more “glamorous” than manufacturing. For this reason, shops are often forced to teach part programming and CNC machine tool operation on the job, a time-consuming and expensive approach given the tight production schedules that most shops must meet to remain competitive. In these demanding situations, truly productive machine tool CNCs not only work with G-code (EIA/ISO) programs written in the front office, they also allow for the programming of complex to simple part geometries at the machine tool on the shop floor. With conversational-type programming capabilities, a wizard-like data entry mode allows the control user to bypass the use of G-code and program a part by simply providing some specific part information in natural language.
For these programming methodologies, operators begin the process by answering conversationally-displayed questions concerning the intended workpiece, including the type of material, OD/ID dimensions and part lengths, among other questions. As these questions are answered, the control constructs the program then allows the machinist/programmer to visually check the tool path and verify the program. In the event of program flaws or missing information, the control will display an alert and the programmer must remedy the problem. For example, our own Mazatrol advanced conversational programming makes it possible for students to quickly garner the skills they need to become fully capable operators. A single five-day class is all that’s required for competency, and further coursework is available to help competent operators become master craftspeople – coursework that is free of charge for three years after the initial purchase of one of our machines. This provides manufacturers with a simple, effective way to avoid falling prey to the worst effects of the skills gap: an aging workforce that presents a problem when bringing new operators up to speed is cost-prohibitive.
In other words, machine tools with advanced conversational programming capabilities supported by comprehensive training serve as a bridge across the skills gap, a way to bring new professionals into the industry and keep manufacturing alive and well in North America. And because employer-subsidized training can be a significant motivator for young job applicants – many of whom feel unable to gain applicable skills without taking on student loan debt – this means OEMs and suppliers can offer these machines to employers as an alternative that provides access to technological solutions, expedites training and arms young people with the skills they need for the jobs of tomorrow.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION: ADVANCED EIA/ISO FUNCTIONS
Some of the latest advanced CNC technology offers the best of both worlds in terms of the two programming types. G-codes are the same as those used in conventional EIA/ISO CNC machines so that users can run programs made for different machine brands with little or no editing besides confirming axis strokes and cutting conditions. A number of other features make it even easier for operators to create part programs at the machine quickly and easily:
- Tool data integration ensures the use of correct H or D codes, users simply call up a G43 or G41 command and the CNC technology applies the correct values based on known tools. This works the same whether shops use simple pocket numbers or tool group numbers – either way, the machine automatically has all the information for the particular tool loaded in the spindle. Each tool has a complete page of stored information associated with it that the control, in turn, monitors and uses automatically.
- Adjustable ultra-precision, high-speed functions can more easily optimize roughing cycles for faster cuts. Then, with a simple M or G-code call, they make smooth and accurate finish cuts.
- Users can open a graphic of the program toolpath and simply touch the line that needs editing. The control then quickly jumps to that part of the program.
- Users can easily import 3D CAD data for fast and easy programming. The control then updates, in real-time, the displayed 3D model as the user inputs program data.
- Full machine simulation is supported by both conversational and G-code and includes table and way cover movements, as well as all the components of the specific machine at hand. Users can describe their workpiece or upload a parasolid model, then watch full material removal – even in full five-axis machining.
- Integration of Microsoft® Windows® file handling, networking and multiple process capabilities ensure control efficiency, intuitiveness and security.
- Users can control virtually all variations of offsetting – G54, G54.1Px, G92, G54.2Px, G54.4Px and more – and adjust offsets on the fly with G10 or direct macro variable setting to eliminate workpiece setup error and fixture error.
- Advanced functions allow the control to accommodate a wide variety of tool offsets, including tool radius G43, G41, G41.2, G41.4, G41.5 and so on, along with five-axis side offsetting and tool length G43, G44, G43.1, G43.4, G43.5 and more.
- Advanced functions allow users to give two or more tools the same group number and indicate how long each should run and/or how many parts they should cut.
- Virtually every standard G-code found on any FANUC-compatible machine is supported to eliminate any need for edits to adapt code posted for another type of control. If changes are needed, the task involves only a few M and T codes.
- While many machines use G10 to alter offset and macro data, some of the latest advanced controls can change many of the parameters in the machine on the fly, allowing shops to accommodate various cutting strategies or different machines in a cell.
- As needed for more flexibility, users can easily manipulate many parameters to optimize processes for the shop’s individual machining environment.
Now is the time to join the control conversation. With millions of unfilled manufacturing positions expected to result in trillions of lost economic potential over the next decade, many shops are already turning to their OEMs and suppliers to help them overcome the skills gap and continue expanding their productivity.
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